A Spectacular Performance
I do not like acting, nor am I good at acting. Though I was once on the grand stage of the Fortune Theatre, I still did not act.
It was on the occasion when Comrade He Qifang and other “Gangsters” were denounced. Mocun and I were among the accessories. Who the director was, what the performance was, etc.—I have entirely forgotten. What I still remember was that the atmosphere was very tense and I was extremely tired. Sitting side by side with Mocun below the stage with my head down, I was just trying to get some sleep, and paid no attention to what was happening on or below the stage no matter whether it was the self-criticism by the accused or the cursing by the audience (only cursing, no beating-up). Suddenly, somebody howled, “Yang Jikang, we’ll put you up on the stage if you go on dozing!” Hurriedly I opened my eyes and jerked up my head. There was a bitter taste in my mouth and I knew that was due to trepidation. But a moment later, I dozed off again. Anyway, it was unavoidable that I would be summoned onto the stage.
The pair of us were called one after another to go onto the stage. Once we were up there, we had to wear tall paper hats. I had learned the trick, that is, I took care to wear that hat in such a way that the angle between the hat and the horizontal was kept as small as possible. In this way we kept as small as possible. In this way an apparent bow of the head was effected. If we wore the hat vertically, we would have to bend at the waist by ninety degrees, otherwise, people would shout, “Lower your head! Lower your head!” Should the accessories not lower their heads, they would cause trouble to the principals. Of course, tricks like this were only applicable to “minor monsters and freaks” who attracted little attention. I pressed the hat down over my forehead, making sure that it would not drop off and it came right down over my eyes. Standing like this at the verge of the stage, I imitated a horse—dozing while standing. Nobody knew that I was imitating a horse—sleeping while playing my bit part. Before the meeting was over, I was summoned to the microphone to declare my name and status, and then to receive a bombardment of abuse, which brought the denunciation session to an end. When I was seated below the stage, my worse fear was that I should be summoned onto the stage; however, having come up on the stage, I felt that the ordeal was nothing special. Standing on the stage as a minor partner in crime, I did not have to act, whereas if I sat below the stage and pretended to be a member of the revolutionary masses, I would find myself in trouble unless I expressed the same indignation as they towards the “criminals”. To tell the truth, I would rather be lashed out at than lash out at others. For to lash out at others was acting by oneself whereas to be lashed out at was watching others act consciously or unconsciously—acting out their feelings towards me; to whiteness an unintended revelation of their true feelings was often intensely interesting.
However, what I would never have expected was that I should, in spite of myself, play the leading role in a most dramatic farce.
In the final chapter of the Six Chapters from My Life “Downunder” I mentioned this denunciation session specially arranged for me.
The masses questioned me: “Who was it that tipped Qian Zhongshu off?”
“It was me,” answered I.
“Who was it that put up a small-character poster with the aid of a flashlight?”
“It was me,” said I, “—the idea was to provide clues to help you comrades investigate the case.”
An uproar of excoriation broke out, with one voice saying, “Who’s your ‘comrade’?”
At that, I simply stopped addressing them as “comrades”, and switched to “you”.
Clever husbands and wives always kept some distance between them so that they could claim to be independent of each other in time of trouble instead of implicating each other. I did the opposite, swearing that I knew everything Qian Zhongshu thought and did. At that time, people—including myself—were seething with indignation. Somebody passed me a brass gong and a padded mallet, ordering me to strike the gong. I was just at that moment fuming with anger, without being able to vent it. So there and then I took over the gong and the mallet, and struck it a couple of times for all I was worth, just to let off stream. That triggered an enormous furore, and a chaotic hubbub ensured among the audience, who cried that I should be taken to the Division compound to be paraded about. A middle-aged veteran cadre dug out a mouldy board—I did not where he got it from—that was black from being long soaked in dirty water. They tied a string to it, and ordered me to hang it around my neck. The board was slippery, and hung heavy around my neck. So, wearing a tall hat, and holding up a brass gong, I was escorted by a throng of people to walk round the crowded canteen first, and then to “parade” round all the major paths in the compound. It was their order that I should, after every few steps, strike the gong twice and shout: “I’m a bourgeois intellectual!” That was not difficult at all! I said to myself. Don’t you think you can cow me! Besides, aren’t all intellectuals “bourgeois intellectuals”? It would do me no harm to shout that. I was temporarily playing the role of the Town Crier in Lazarillo de Tormes. What was different was that I was at once a non-person and a crier who proclaimed news about herself. Although there was nobody who took pictures of me, I, nevertheless, was able to ape the Monkey King and let my soul leave my body so that I could watch the strange sight I from high above in the sky. I could also see that, following me, there was a sorry troop of “monster and freaks” all wearing tall hats. How spectacular that farce was! Even to this day, in retrospect, I can still see in my mind’s eye that funny procession, and at the head of that procession was none other than myself.
Probably the broad masses could not forget how I made an exhibition of myself either, so, the next day, when they saw me, they simply could not help laughing. There were two of them who put on long faces to lecture me: whoever dares to go against the will of the people will have her crown broken. I freely admitted that it was my fault to argue with the masses, but I could not turn black to white. They were after all not altogether unreasonable, for they no longer pressed me to plead guilty to that groundless charge concerning Mocun. I said to myself: you can parade me but you cannot subdue me. I just could not help echoing Sancho Panza: “Although I was disgracefully paraded, I am still a respectable person!”